Basically, consent means that someone is agreeing to take part in something. Before we look at sexual consent in more detail, let’s be very clear…
Consent is mandatory when people are having sex, both people must freely give consent before, and during, sex or any sexual touching. It is also important to remember that the age of consent in Ireland is 17!
Asking for consent is not a perfunctory, tick-the-box action that will ‘ruin the mood’ – it is a way of enhancing connection between sexual partners, ensuring that everyone feels heard, respected and are enjoying themselves! Young people sometimes worry about having ‘good’ sex and how to be ‘good at’ sex – when we hear these concerns, the response is always the same: communicate, communicate, communicate! Developing sexual communication skills, including how to actively give and receive consent, is the most important tool you will ever have on your belt for having pleasurable, fun, comfortable and safe sex!
You can never assume that someone is giving consent. The safest way to give (and get) consent is simply to ask. That way, there is no confusion, and both people are 100% sure that they agree to taking part in whatever it may be….kissing, touching, cuddling, foreplay or sex. The main thing to remember is: anything other than a clear yes, is a NO! Also, just because you or the other person has consented to one behaviour, (like kissing) that does not mean that there is consent for anything else (like sexual touching). And, even if you have given consent, you can always take it back at any stage and decide you don’t want to go any further.
Everyone is free to change their mind! Maybe you consented to doing something last week with someone, but that does not mean you automatically consent to the same thing this week. You can ALWAYS say no if you’re not feeling it, and the person seeking consent must respect your decision.
So, even if someone is winking like crazy at you…
or being seriously flirtatious…
…that does NOT mean they are saying it is OK for you to assume they are up for doing anything.
Never assume that a ‘no’ is someone playing ‘hard to get’ or being a ‘tease’.
There are two things you need to ask yourself when giving and getting consent
If someone is put under pressure or being persuaded to give consent, they may not really be giving their consent as they may not feel like they have a choice. Never push someone to say yes if they are hesitating. It’s a personal decision to say yes or no. Nobody should be pressurised into doing something they are not comfortable with. Sometimes they or you will feel able to resist pressure and sometimes you won’t. Having sex for the first time is a big decision and it’s better for it to happen when you are emotionally ready, at the right time, in the right place, and with the right person.
In some cases, the person may give a definite yes, but it would be considered wrong to go through with the behaviour. The person may not be physically or mentally able to give consent, for instance if they are very distressed or upset, drunk or high on drugs. Age is also very important. In Ireland, you must be 17 years of age or older to legally give consent. Having a sexual encounter with someone younger than this (if you are older than 17) is considered to be sexual assault, or rape, if you have sex.
If you, or someone else, cannot say NO (because they are drunk, vulnerable, scared, confused, manipulated, coerced, or forced) then YES has no meaning!
If you feel that you have been affected by rape or sexual assault, contact the Galway Rape Crisis Centre for advice and support